Every year, I write about our old cat needs. While Karma-Kat has just reached middle age (and still acts like a kitten!), cats age at different rates. When do you consider your cat old? Is your old cat a senior kitty by age 8, or 13, or…when? For cats, what is old? Here are 8 reasons to consider adopting a senior citizen pet.
November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month. I have to admit, there’s something special about old cats. This post first appeared in 2012, and has been updated several times. Now that Seren-Kitty has gone to Rainbow Bridge, this post is in Seren’s honor and for all the golden oldie senior cats that rule our hearts (whether here or waiting for us at the Bridge.)
SEREN & OLD CATS
Seren went to the Bridge in December 2017, and would have celebrated her 22nd birthday on February 1st. I wanted to celebrate old cats and talk a bit about what is old age for cats. Some cats age more gracefully than others, and despite her longtime senior status, Seren continued to act like a youngster and keep Magical-Dawg and Karma-Kat in line, up nearly to the last week of her life. Now Karma-Kat has reached senior kitty status.
Siamese as a breed tend to live longer, and it’s not unusual for healthy cats to live into their late teens or even early twenties. Of course, Seren was a found kitten, and we’re not sure what her heritage was, but she continued to maintain clean teeth, good appetite, normal litter-ary habits, sound heart and no lumps or bumps. After her bout with the schneezles, and losing one canine (fang) tooth, she continued rockin’ and rollin’ like nothing could stop her. I thought she’d live forever. *sigh* If you have a senior kitty, here are some tips for helping to keep old pets comfortable during their golden years.
What is considered old for a cat? The question of what is old is complicated by the impact of genetics, environment, and individual characteristics. Consider human beings: one person may act, look and feel “old” at 65 while another 65-year-old remains an active athlete with a youthful attitude and appearance. The same is true for our cats.
“I think that actually varies a lot, and it’s getting older every year,” says Rhonda Schulman, DVM, an internist at the University of Illinois. “It used to be that eight was the major cutoff for the cat that was geriatric. Now we’re moving to the point that’s a prolonged middle age.” According to Guinness World Records, the oldest cat on record was Creme Puff owned by Jake Perry of Austin, Texas. Cream Puff was born August 3, 1967 and died August 6, 2005 at the age of 38 years and 3 days.
A good definition of old age for an animal is the last 25 percent of their lifespan, says Sarah K. Abood, DVM a clinical nutritionist at Michigan State University. However, since we can’t predict what an individual cat’s lifespan will be, the beginning of old age is a bit arbitrary. Certain families of cats may be longer lived than others, in the same way that some human families enjoy a much greater longevity than others. The lifespan of your cat’s parents and grandparents is a good predictor of how long you can expect your cat to live. People who share their lives with pedigreed cats may be able to access this information through the cat’s breeder.
PREDICTING LONGEVITY IN OLD CATS
Longevity of unknown heritage cats is much more difficult to predict. Even when felines are “part” Siamese or Persian, for example, these felines may inherit the very worst, or the very best, from the parents. The majority of pet cats are domestic shorthair or domestic longhair kitties of mixed ancestry, and the products of unplanned breeding. That by itself points to a poorer-than-average level of health for the parents, which in turn would be passed on to the kittens. Siblings within the same litter may have different fathers, and can vary greatly in looks, behavior, and health. When all is said and done, one should expect the random-bred cat-next-door kitty to be neither more nor less healthy than their pedigreed ancestors—as long as they all receive the same level of care and attention.
“If you get a kitten, it is very likely you will have this cat for the next 15 to 20 years,” says Dr. Abood. That means the last 25 percent would be 12 to 15 years. To simplify matters, most veterinarians consider cats to be “senior citizens” starting at about seven to eight years old, and geriatric at 14 to 15.
Here’s some perspective comparing cat age to human age. “The World Health Organization says that middle-aged folks are 45 to 59 years of age and elderly is 60 to 74. They considered aged as being over 75,” says Debbie Davenport, DVM, an internist with Hill’s Pet Foods. “If you look at cats of seven years of age as being senior, a parallel in human years would be about 51 years,” she says. A geriatric cat at 10 to 12 years of age would be equivalent to a 70-year-old human.
CHERISHING OLD SENIOR CATS
Veterinarians used to concentrate their efforts on caring for young animals. When pets began to develop age-related problems, the tendency among American owners was to just get another pet. That has changed, and today people cherish their aged furry companions and want to help them live as long as possible. Now there are many things you can do for common cat aging conditions.
Modern cats age seven and older can still live full, happy and healthy lives. Age is not a disease. Age is just age, says Sheila McCullough, DVM, an internist at University of Illinois. “There are a lot of things that come with age that can be managed successfully, or the progression delayed. Renal failure cats are classic examples.” It’s not unusual for cats suffering kidney failure to be diagnosed in their late teens or even early twenties.
“I had a woman with a 23-year-old cat who asked should she change the diet. I said, don’t mess with success!” says Dr. McCullough. These days veterinarians often see still-healthy and vital cats of a great age.
“I think if the cat lives to 25 years, I shouldn’t be doing anything but saying hello,” says Steven L. Marks, BVSc, an internist and surgeon at Louisiana State University (now at North Carolina State University). “If you’ve ever had a pet live that long, you want them all to live that long.”
What about your senior cats? Does he or she act like a senior? What age did you notice a change, if any?
Seren’s aging changes meant her dark Siamese mask turned gray, with white hairs surrounding her eyes. Arthritis made it hard for her to leap as before. Her claws thickened so she could no longer retract them, and she “clicked” while she walked on hard surfaces–I kept them trimmed for her. In her last four months, she needed extra potty spots as she couldn’t quite anticipate getting to the right place on time. But I’ll forever be grateful for the nearly 22 years we shared together.
Pet Veteran Love: 8 Reasons to Adopt Senior Cats & Dogs
Yes, I’ve got a whole series of blogs about the benefits of senior citizen pets. After all, November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month. If you’ve never considered an old dog or old cat to adopt, read on! There’s nothing more endearing than a kitten or a puppy. But they also can be nonstop dynamos, frustrating to predict and a magnet for trouble. Although kittens and puppies can be wonderful fun, nothing matches the deep bond we have developed with our old cat or senior dog buddies over a period of years. Some of the benefits may surprise you. Here’s an excerpt from my “aging pet” books.
BENEFITS OF SENIOR PETS
Mature cats and dogs have many advantages over babies. Probably the biggest advantage is that together you have created a partnership, and already know each other and have adjusted to individual needs and foibles. All the hard work is done. She knows to scratch the scratching post and use the litter box. You trust her not to swing from the drapes or empty the potted palm while you’re away. The dog’s been house trained and tells you when she needs to “go”—and you know just how many hours you can be away from home before she’s in dire straits. She’s learned not to chew the TV remote control or your shoes, except for the old house slipper she’s carried around like a teddy bear since you brought her home 10 years ago. She’s learned to wake you promptly at 6:45 for work, and meets you at the door each evening.
Kitty no longer climbs the Christmas tree, unrolls the toilet paper, and only rearranges your sock drawer if you’re gone overnight and she’s lonely. She reminds you when it’s time for a pill and afternoon nap—for both of you. And she acts like the new grandbaby is her own kitten or puppy, and showers the infant with attention, gentle play, and protective care—dropping favorite toys in the crib, and even putting up with toddler tail tugs with a patient feline purr or doggy wag. Countless children have learned to walk while reaching for the furry shoulder or tempting tail of a cat or dog friend.
Old Pets Are Great for Kids
In fact, one of the best ways to introduce young children to the positive aspects of dogs and cats is with a calm, patient adult animal. Parents already have their hands full dealing with infants and toddlers, and don’t need the added stress of an in-your-face kitten. Children can share birthdays with the aging pet and still be relatively young when she enters her golden years.
Growing Up Together
It’s not unusual for young people to say that one special cat or dog has always been a part of their life—and in times of family crises or emotional upset, the pet can ease the tension and help heal the pain simply by being there to pet and talk to. The mere presence of a cat or dog that the child loves can help a broken heart, disagreements with siblings or parents, even physical or emotional trauma.
An older pet can be a stabilizing influence on children, teach responsibility and empathy for other living creatures, and even act as a social bridge toward making friends with their peers. For example, a child shy of interacting with other children because of a perceived disability often comes out of her shell when accompanied by a furry friend–the dog or cat remains the focus of interaction rather than the child’s “different” look or behavior. Older cats and dogs often are ideal for such relationships, because they aren’t as active as younger pets, may be more patient and have learned what to expect. There’s a benefit to the old pet, too—playing and interacting with children keeps the pet’s brain and body active and youthful.
Couples whose children have left for college and are recent empty nesters can receive great comfort from the presence of a furry companion. People of any age who lose a spouse from divorce or death—but particularly older owners—benefit greatly from a pet’s nonjudgmental love. For instance, petting lowers the blood pressure; and caring for a pet gives owners a purpose to concentrate on beyond the hurt and pain. Playing with and grooming the pet, shopping for litter and food, giving medicine to an old kitty or doggy friend, keeps people connected to the world and other people around them.
Senior Dogs & Cats for Seniors
Old pets are often the companions of aging owners because that old pet has the same problems they’ve got, says William Tranquilli, DVM, a professor and pain specialist at the University of Illinois. “They don’t necessarily want a young pet, they want to do what they can to help their old buddy.” They’re willing to spend the money and often have more time to treat chronic disease to try to make the old animal more comfortable. And because the pets that we love are good for human health, just having a cat or dog around can reduce the trips owners take to their own doctors. Some physicians recommend that heart attack survivors keep a pet, because it increases their survival.
People of all ages, whose human family members live far away, become even more emotionally dependent on the cat. “I’ve met many elderly people whose cat has become the most important thing in their life. It’s a family member, and it may be the only remaining family member,” says Susan Little, DVM, a feline specialist in Ottawa, Canada. Of those pet owners who have a will, 27 percent have included provisions for their pets. Prolonging the pet’s life touches on a host of social and emotional issues.
Old Dogs & Cats Share History
Pets who have spent a decade or more with us have learned what we like and expect—and we’ve learned to anticipate the senior cat’s needs, likes, and dislikes. Over the span of years, we build and then enjoy a comfortable companionship together. Our aging pets share with us our life experiences, successes and failures, joys and sorrows, and they represent milestones in our lives, says Signe Beebe, DVM, a veterinary acupuncturist and herbologist practicing in Sacramento. They may have celebrated with us when we graduated school, married, and had children or grandchildren—or comforted us when we divorced, retired, or lost a spouse. They have been there for us, through everything. The more time we spend together, the greater our affection grows. Our compassion, love, and empathy for each other reach a depth that has no parallel in human existence.
“We share our secret souls with our pets in ways we wouldn’t dare with another human being,” says Dr. Wallace Sife, a psychologist and president of the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. “We’re human beings, and love is love. Love for a pet is no different than love for another human being.”
Adopting Old Dogs and Rescuing Old Cats: 8 Reasons to Adopt Senior Cats & Dogs
This time of year, the holidays can prompt yearnings to adopt a new furry wonder. Nothing beats puppies and kittens for fun. But senior citizen pets offer many advantages. Remember that small dogs and cats often live into their mid- to late-teens or early twenties, while larger dogs remain happy and vital at least a decade. Old fogey pets often have lots of love to share, so think about it.
I even wrote my two “aging dog” and “aging cat” care books (now also in hardcover formats!) in honor of senior citizen pets with detailed health and nursing care information. You can also learn about DIY tips for aging pets. Here are 8 benefits I hope will convince you to take a chance on a golden oldie.
Less Initial Cost.
A mature dog or cat has already been spayed or neutered, and had routine vaccinations. Puppies and kittens are magnets for trouble, and suffer more injuries through nonstop play and exploration than sedate older pets.
By the time a dog or cat reaches mature status, health or behavior problems will be apparent. That helps adopters plan and provide ways to keep seniors happy and comfortable rather than being surprised by an unexpected issue. For instance, a Dachshund with a history of back problems can be offered steps and ramps to reach the sofa and a beloved owner’s lap. Even with a health challenge, old fogey pets make wonderful companions.
Puppies and kittens are works-in-progress and hard to predict adult personality. For instance, lap-snugglers as babies may snub cuddles once they grow up. But what you see is what you get with an adult pet. The senior dog or cat personality has been established, making it easier to match your perfect pet requirements. You can choose a dog-loving feline, an active, rugged dog, or a pet willing to lap sit.
Older dogs often have already been trained basic obedience. They know how to “sit” and walk nicely on leash, for example.
The mature dog has fewer urges to act like a juvenile delinquent. They may still have bursts of energy and enjoy playtime. But older dogs won’t be as likely to jump up, “hump” your leg, or knock down the kids trying to race them out the door. Mature felines won’t be as interested in using your head as a launch pad, or your pant leg as a moveable scratch post.
Fewer Behavior Problems.
Puppies and kittens only learn by making mistakes. But a mature pet already knows the rules of the house. An older dog knows not to chew the TV remote or your shoes. She’s been house trained and tells you when she needs to “go.” The mature kitty understands litter box etiquette, no longer climbs the Christmas tree, or swings from the drapes. He knows not to excavate the potted palm or play ping-pong with the parakeet.
Older pets that have been around babies, toddlers and young children already know how to interact. They can be a wonderful choice for a child’s first pet. Dogs especially may “adopt” your human baby, and shower the infant with attention, gentle play, and protective care. They put up with toddler tail tugs with a patient purr or doggy grin. Countless children have learned to walk while grasping the furry shoulder of a canine friend, or reaching out for that tempting feline tail. A mature pet can offer the child a special friend who listens but never tells secrets, a sympathetic purring or wagging presence that acts as a stabilizing influence. Older pets are less fragile than puppies and kittens and can teach responsibility and empathy for other living creatures.
Senior Citizen Friendly.
Many older people have loved and lived with pets all their lives. But they may worry what might happen should they outlive a newly adopted puppy or kitten. A mature dog or cat offers just as much love but a more manageable number of years that can be more attractive to older owners. Mature cats and dogs have fewer energy needs—they won’t need owners to take them jogging when rolling a ball down the hallway will suffice. Older owners who have fragile skin can also choose mature pets already trained to be careful with claws and play bites. And the older dog—even if not leash trained—isn’t as able to drag the owner around.
Dogs and cats don’t know they’re old. They only know they are loved. There are many advantages to adopting an “old fogey pet” and these special animal companions return your love in unexpected and glorious ways. Refer to these adoption tips to help choose your perfect companion!
Do you have a “golden oldie?” Did you adopt them when they were seniors, or did they grow up and grow old in your home? Karma-Kat is now 9 year’s young. Even my thrillers include older pets–there’s something extra special about these lovely old timers. Why did you choose a mature dog or cat? Do tell!
September 19-25 is National Adopt A Less Adoptable Pet Week, founded by PetFinder.com. The organization encourages shelters and rescues to create special week-long events devoted to giving overlooked pets like those with disabilities a better chance at finding homes. There are many things to consider when adopting a pet.
This struck a chord with me, especially after living with a tri-pawd dog when Bravo lost his leg. He didn’t act disabled, though. Have you ever adopted an other-abled pet or less adoptable pet?
She doesn’t know she’s blind or think she’s disabled, and would make someone a loving, wonderful companion!
What Is A Less Adoptable Pet
Why less adoptable? They’re the wrong breed or have special needs. Overlooked pets include deaf dogs or deaf cats, blind pets, or those missing a limb. Many folks prefer the ‘perfect’ cute puppy or kitten and don’t want a crippled pet, or just don’t like the color of the dog or cat. Of course, we know black dogs and cats, and those with only one eye, or three legs, still love us with all their furry hearts!
Old Pets Rock!
Y’all know how I feel about golden oldie pets, after writing two award-winning books that help folks care with the needs of aging cats as well as aging dogs. Senior citizen pets have just as much love to give and often fit very well into families unable or unwilling to manage the hijinks of in-your-face puppies and kittens. Learn more about the old cat conditions here.
Adult cats and dogs grown out of the “cute” phase also can have a hard time being chosen. But remember that healthy cats and small dogs can live well into their mid to late teens or longer, and you can expect to enjoy at least another half-dozen years by adopting a four-year-old pet. And usually you save costs because they’ve already been “fixed” and have their shots, as well as basic training.
Dogs adapt quickly to wheelchairs, and continue to enjoy life.
What Is Other-Abled Pets?
“Other-abled” pets don’t know what they’re missing. Despite loss of limbs, mobility, sight or hearing, they live and enjoy life regardless of the challenges they face. Often, the pet has less difficulty coming to terms with such changes than do owners. Cats and dogs accept conditions that devastate people. Learn about how to help deaf pets here.
A favorite picture of Bravo after he lost his leg. It never slowed him down! He taught Shadow-Pup all the important dog stuff.
Pets can suffer paralysis through accidents, degenerative back diseases or other health conditions. Nobody knows what happened to Willy the rescue Chihuahua, who lived with rear-limb paralysis. He wouldn’t stop dragging himself from place to place, determined to stay in the thick of things. Once owner Deborah Turner got him strapped into his K9-cart (wheelchair for dogs), he was literally off and running. Willy became the mascot for his local branch of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, had his own website, and two children’s books written about his exploits.
Our Bravo-Dawg never complained when his cancer diagnosis stole his leg. The day after his amputation surgery, Bravo walked out of the veterinary hospital, tail wagging. Oh, we felt devastated and wept many tears during his treatment, but Bravo lived every day with joy and taught us even a brief, condensed life makes a difference.
Blind Dogs and Deaf Cats
I interviewed Dr. Paul Gerding, a veterinary ophthalmologist, for one of my books. He never considered that his Labrador couldn’t still enjoy life when Katie began losing her sight. He wasn’t able to correct the progressive disease medically, but took steps to ensure the blind dog could still navigate her home and yard by memory. She continued to hunt—in safe clover fields with no ditches or holes—and at home Katie relied on the younger dog Grace to be her personal guide dog pal.
The clinic cat for many years at our local veterinarian’s office had only one eye.
My colleague, Lynette George, shared about a special blind doggy she adopted. “Her name is CeeCee and she’s a miniature, long-hair, double-dapple dachshund.” She went from the breeder to three different owners, and then ultimately they surrendered CeeCee to the Oklahoma Spay Network because nobody really wanted to handle a blind dog. “Four months old and thinks she owns the world. She has absolutely no clue that she’s supposed to be “handicapped.” Anyway, she’s absolutely adorable. Everybody who sees her falls in love immediately. She took over Petco when she went in – kind of like she does everywhere she goes. She’s just a hoot every day. We LOVE her!”
One of my local vet offices adopted a one-eyed clinic cat (in the picture). And another local vet clinic has Captain Dan, the three-legged tuxedo kitty. What better ambassadors for adopting disabled–or other-abled–pets?
Pets inspire us with their stoic attitudes. They don’t know how to feel sorry for themselves, and may not recognize they’re any “different” than other cats and dogs. Fluffy and Prince simply want to get on with the important business of eating, playing, and loving their family. As readers know, furry love comes in all shapes, sizes, and packages.
Do you share your home with a “less adoptable” pet? How did you find each other? Has living with an “other-abled” pet affected your life in positive ways? Please share! I’d love to hear your stories and see pictures of your special fur-kids.
Deaf dog? Or maybe deaf cat? Seren became deaf. By age 17, she could still hear some things, but her hearing continued to deteriorate, especially in her last year with us.
It used to be I could call Seren to come watch the bunny on the patio, and she’d run from anywhere in the house. She’d always been a loud-mouth kitty, talking constantly and responding to our conversation, so she always had the last word. But her voice was always pleasant, almost a sweet mew. With her loss of hearing, her voice became louder, more strident, and she often cried especially at night with long drawn out yowls when she couldn’t hear to find us.
It’s not surprising. Aging cats commonly suffer hearing loss. I cover deaf dogs and deaf cats plus other aging pet issues in my old cat care book and aging dog book.
HOW WELL DO PETS HEAR?
In her youth, Seren (like all normal cats) heard much better than people. However, youthful pets hear better than middle-aged and older animals. Some cats are born deaf, or are genetically predisposed to deafness. For example, blue-eyed white cats can be born with a condition that results in deafness at an early age.
Hearing is something that cats are better at than dogs–but don’t tell the dogs! Normal dogs typically hear the same low-pitched sounds as humans, as well as frequencies as high as 100,000 cycles per second—people can only hear sound waves up to 20,000 cycles per second. Cat hearing is even more acute. Your cat can hear sounds in a 10½-octave range—a wider span of frequencies than any other mammal. That allows your cat to hear nearly ultrasonic rodent squeaks.
At least, Seren used to hear those mousy voices. Not anymore. Oh well, she never caught a mouse, anyway!
With age, the delicate structures of the inner ear begin to lose their sensitivity to vibration. This normal age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, develops in every pet that lives long enough—just as it does in aging people. We’re going to be in BIG trouble if Seren lives another 10 years and I’m losing my hearing, too.
Hearing loss can be accelerated by damage from loud noises. Dogs that hunt and are exposed to gunshots for years and years are more prone to damage. Chronic ear infections may also result in hearing loss.
MAKING ACCOMMODATIONS FOR DEAF DOGS AND DEAF CATS
Deaf cats and deaf dogs can’t tell us that they’re hard of hearing, and they compensate by paying more attention with their other senses. In fact, strangers probably wouldn’t notice any difference in Seren. As long as she can see folks, she clues in very quickly on what’s going on. Deaf pets watch owners and other pets more closely, and cue off of their behavior to know that somebody’s at the door, for example. Seren alerts to Magic’s behavior when my husband comes home. Deaf pets also pay closer attention to vibration and air currents—the breeze made by an open door may cue them you’ve come home from work. Even when they can’t hear the can opener, the pet’s internal “clock” will announce suppertime.
So what do I do to make accommodations for my kitty? I make sure Seren can see me, and if she’s looking the other way, I tap the tabletop or stomp my foot so she feels the vibration. I don’t want to startle her, and this way she is alerted to my presence. If Magic should start to lose his hearing, he’s already learned many hand signals and probably wouldn’t miss a beat. Pets trained with clickers can instead learn to respond to the flick-on-off of a flashlight or a porch light switched on/off to call the dog inside.
Deafness also raises safety concerns. Can the dozing, deaf cat wake up in time to get away from an aggressive stray? Keeping all cats and especially deaf kitties inside is probably the safest option. Seren rarely went outside anyway, and then on a leash, so she’s not missing anything.
Seren is still happy and otherwise healthy. She still indulges in the “zooms” almost every evening, and enjoys putting the dog in his place. Have you ever had a pet with hearing loss? What were tips that helped you keep your pet happy and safe? Please share!